911.gov proposed for terror tips

In an effort to create a central online destination where citizens can report suspicious activity that may be terrorism related, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) last week introduced legislation that would create a Web site to make submitting online tips as easy as dialing 911 on a telephone.

The site, www.911.gov, would offer citizens a convenient, easy-to-remember method to contact authorities immediately and would make it easier for citizens of other countries to contribute important information to fight terrorism, Flake said.

Flake came up with the idea when he wanted to add a link to the FBI's tip Web site to his own home page, but was discouraged when it took staff members a long time to track down the exact URL, a Flake spokesman said.

"In order to fight terrorism effectively, law enforcement officials need to know information as soon as possible," Flake said in a release. "Currently, there are at least five different government Web sites where citizens can contribute information. Not only is it confusing to have so many Web sites that essentially serve the same function, but it can also waste valuable time. 911.gov is easy to remember and will get information to law enforcement officials quickly."

Since announcing the legislation Nov. 28, Flake has had a "very positive response from other members of Congress and interest from the White House," whose officials are curious about details, Flake's spokesman said. Under the congressman's plan, the Office of Homeland Security would host the site in coordination with the FBI, the Justice Department and other government agencies. Flake is trying to set up a meeting with Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, to discuss the proposal, according to the Flake spokesman.

Mark DeMier, deputy director for operations at the Anser Institute for Homeland Security, said the 911.gov proposal was "an interesting idea" but brings with it a number of issues that must be addressed.

"What they have to build, in my opinion, is a mother of all databases with some sort of mechanism to analyze tips to validate them or determine if they're hoaxes," DeMier said. "It will be a significant effort to build, but it is possible."

Another key to making the site work will be determining oversight and figuring out whether it will serve a law enforcement or information-gathering role and where the analysis will take place, DeMier said.

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